Welcome back fans! It’s been a long but successful winter and as we turn the calendar to April, Spring Training is winding down and thoughts of Opening Day 2012 are rushing through every fan’s head. 2011 was one of the best seasons the Tigers have had both individually and as a team. Detroit finished atop the American League Central Division with 95 wins on the year. It was also their first Division crown since joining the Central in 1998 and their first Division title of any kind since 1987. Individually, Justin Verlander was the story of the year throughout Major League Baseball. Verlander finished with 24 wins, 250 strikeouts, and a 2.40 ERA (1st in each category) and won the AL Cy Young Award as the AL’s Best Pitcher, and the AL Most Valuable Player award. Detroit also was proud to send 5 players to the All-Star Game in Phoenix, AZ. Even though they had a great regular season, injuries started to take a toll on the Tigers in the post-season and that eventually would be their undoing. Detroit was able to get by the mighty New York Yankees in the Division Series, but ran into a red hot Texas Rangers ball club and the bat of Nelson Cruz which would spell the end of the season in 6 games.
Detroit headed to the off-season knowing their core would be returning and that the roster only needed minor changes in order to reach their goal of a World Series Championship. However, those goals took a drastic hit in early January when they received news that All-Star DH/C Victor Martinez was injured and would miss the entire 2012 season with a torn ACL. Suddenly the Tigers were missing an enormous part of their offense. They needed to find someone to replace Martinez’s .330 batting average, his 103 RBI’s, and his 178 hits. However, players like Victor don’t grow on trees. So when Owner Mike Illitch challenged GM Dave Dombrowski to find a replacement, Dombrowski told him there was really only one player left on the market that could come close to replacing Martinez, and he would come at a steep price. Prince Fielder signed with the Detroit Tigers on January 24th, setting off a shock-wave through the sports world. (http://detroitsportsnation.com/theroar/2012/01/24/tigers-sign-prince-fielder-for-9-years-214-million/) The Tigers went from favorite to win the AL Central, to World Series favorites. Adding the slugging Prince Fielder to a lineup that already included perennial All-Star slugger Miguel Cabrera along with up-and-coming Brennan Boesch would make Detroit one of the best, if not the best offense in baseball. Add in All-Star C Alex Avila, who had a career year last year, and last years trade deadline acquisition Delmon Young, and you can see why Manager Jim Leyland is so excited for the 2012 season. With Fielder and Cabrera, along with SP Justin Verlander, Detroit has it’s own version of “The Big 3″. To make room for Fielder, Miguel Cabrera will move over to 3B, where he began his career when playing for the Florida Marlins.
The Tigers also present one of the American League’s top pitching rotations. Along with Verlander, Max Scherzer and Doug Fister return to round out the core of the rotation. On the back end, Rick Porcello will be counted on to be consistent this season, and newly appointed 5th starter Drew Smyly will be making his MLB debut. Joaquin Benoit returns to be the set-up man for the always electric Jose Valverde. Detroit did bolster their bullpen in the off-season by adding reliever Octavio Dotel. Al Albuquerque will begin throwing in the coming days and will hopefully return to the club sometime around the All-Star Break.
Much has been made this spring about Brandon Inge and what Miguel Cabrera’s move to 3rd base will do to the longest tenured Tiger. Inge obviously wasn’t happy with the news that bringing in Fielder would mean Cabrera would take his position at 3rd, but he understood that his flashy defense at the corner the past few seasons isn’t making up for his embarrassing show at the plate. Inge has tried to make the transition to 2nd base, a position that last year was manned by Ryan Raburn and Ramon Santiago, among a few others. All 3 players are in the mix to start at 2nd this season, neither having proved themselves worthy of an Opening Day spot yet. Santiago has proven over the past few years that he is a key asset to the Tigers as a utility man, but isn’t necessarily an every day kind of player. Ryan Raburn has much more power than both Inge and Santiago, but his defense is a huge liability. If Inge can’t compete for an everyday spot at 2nd, than the team may be better off trading him. There have already been rumors of a trade, but nothing imminent. Adding to Inge’s woes, he will start the season on the 15-day DL.
Needless to say, the 2012 Detroit Tigers come into the season with sky high expectations, and anything short of reaching the World Series would be a disappointment in the eyes of management and fans. Mike Illitch and Dave Dombrowski have done all they can to give the team the tools they need to win. Now all they have to do is go out on the field and do it. It should be a great summer of baseball down at Comerica. I can hardly wait to get going.
Key Additions: 1B Prince Fielder, C Gerald Laird, RP Octavio Dotel
Key Losses: SP Brad Penny, RP Ryan Perry, 3B Wilson Betemit, SS Carlos Guillen, 2B Will Rhymes, & OF Magglio Ordonez
Projected Opening Day Lineup
1. CF — Austin Jackson
2. OF — Brennan Boesch
3. 3B — Miguel Cabrera
4. 1B — Prince Fielder
5. OF/DH — Delmon Young
6. C — Alex Avila
7. SS — Jhonny Peralta
8. OF — Andy Dirks
9. 2B — Ryan Raburn
Reserves: Ramon Santiago, Don Kelly, Danny Worth, Gerald Laird, Brandon Inge, Clete Thomas
Projected Starting Rotation
1. Justin Verlander
2. Max Scherzer
3. Doug Fister
4. Rick Porcello
5. Drew Smyly
Relief Pitchers: Jose Valverde (Closer), Joaquin Benoit (Set-up), Octavio Dotel (7th inning), Al Albuquerque (DL, due back mid-season), Collin Balester, Daniel Schlereth, Phil Coke, Luis Marte
1. How will Miguel Cabrera fare at Third Base?
2. Will Brandon Inge beat out Ryan Raburn for the everyday Second Baseman position? And if both fail to get the job done, who plays 2B?
3. Can lead-off man Austin Jackson significantly cut down on his strikeouts?